Last week we talked about the importance of having an aesthetically appealing book cover, and how a homemade cover can be a death sentence for your book.
Luckily, titles are harder to screw up. You could probably open a dictionary, point to a random word, and have a passable title for a book (I just tested this claim and got Arrows, Hash, and Photoautotroph, but two out of three ain’t bad, right?).
A great title, however—not to mention a relevant one—is hard to come by. Although it’s not a requirement for a great work—Lolita, 1984, and On the Road all are pretty underwhelming titles—a great name can force a double take with even the slightest mention. To help you find the perfect title for your work, we’ve looked at some of the best book titles of all time and come up with some tried and true titling tactics!
Get a Hand
Of course, the Bard isn’t the only poet you can draw from. Cormac McCarthy ripped No Country for Old Men from the opening line of a William Butler Yeats poem. Of Mice and Men is an anglicisation of a line from Robert Burn’s “To a Mouse”. There a tons of dead white men whose poetry is just sitting around in the public domain, waiting to be scrapped for parts. Pick up your copy of The Unabridged Works of William Shakespeare and start underlining!
Turn a Phrase
A twist on a popular phrase is a great hook for your book—especially if your work is not too serious. How to Lose Friends and Alienate People piggybacked off of How to Win Friends and Influence People to great success; try finding an idiom that’s loosely related to your book, and change a letter or word. Which book are you more likely to look at: Hors d’Oeuvres for All Occasions, or Speak of the Deviled Egg?*
*neither of which are hyperlinked, since I just came up with them right now
Although I’m sure that both War and Peace & Crime and Punishment are spectacular novels—I myself make a point not to read anything over 700 pages that doesn’t start with the words “Harry Potter and the”—their titles are a little on the bland, vague side. Everybody already knows that both of those pairs are related; two words or phrases that are rarely coupled make for a much more intriguing title. Rumor has it Samuel L. Jackson signed on to “Snakes on a Plane” without reading the script, simply based on the ridiculous juxtaposition in the title. And if it’s good enough for SLJ, it should be good enough for you.
Obviously this one’s not for every book, but under the right circumstances, a silly or absurdist title can be both eye-catching and fitting. Captain Underpants and the Perilous Plot of Professor Poopypants is never going to become canonical literature, but it did sell millions of copies worldwide.
What are some of your favorite book titles? Let us know in the comments!